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Maori Hill-Forts

  • Raymond Firth

Many a wanderer through the country districts of New Zealand has found interest in the sight of the monumental earthworks which crown so many of our hills. There is something grand and yet pathetic about these old fortresses. Once the scene of turmoil and activity, they now lie neglected and still beneath the sky, clothed in bush, or scrub, or fern, or grass-grown and dotted with sheep. Their day is over, the Maori long since has ceased to swarm on their slopes and man their palisades; they are but a memory of the warring and the peacemaking, the fighting and the feasting of the eventful past.

In this paper it is my object to give a brief account of the general features of their construction and of their importance in Maori life.

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page 68 note 1 See the excellent discussion of this point in Allcroft, Hadrian, Eurtheoork of England, 1908, pp. 162-7.

page 69 note 1 Best, The Maori, 11, p. 321 ; Smith, S. Percy, Maori Wars of the Nineteenth Century, 1910, p. 364.

page 70 note 1 Cook, J., Account of a Voyage Round the World, Hawkesworth, 1773, ii, pp. 340 and 342 ; Banks’Journal, ed. by Hooker, 1896, p. 199.

page 70 note 2 Journal Polynesian Society, 1925, 24, 19-23.

page 71 note 1 For a full account of this fort with plan and photographs see the writer’s paper “The Korekore Pa,” Journal Polynesian Society, 1925, 34, 118.

page 71 note 2 In recent years the valuable researches of Mr Geo. Graham have thrown much light on the history of the isthmus and its hill-forts.

page 72 note 1 Graham, Geo., Journal Polynesian Society, 1921, 30, 146.

page 72 note 2 Terraced forts with the scarps faced with stone have also been described from Rapa-iti, in the Pacific, by S. and Routledge, K., Jour. R.A.I., 1921, li, 454–5.

page 73 note 1 The Maori, II, 320-1.

page 73 note 2 Allcroft, op. cit., p. 167n. contrasts the skill in fortification of the Maori with their ignorance of other arts and crafts, and regards them as being a very primitive people. But material equipment alone should not be taken as the criterion of culture. In decorative art, music, poetry, the Maori had reached a high standard. It is quite incorrect to say of the Maori that “They were in fact, in the Palajolithic stage of culture.” They were a neolithic people, well advanced in the arts of grinding, polishing, and drilling stone, even the pounamu, the green jade, which is known to modern lapidaries for its hardness.

page 74 note 1 The same material is employed to-day by the natives of certain forest districts, to lash their wooden fences. A native of Ruatahuna explained that the aka stems (of which several varieties are employed for different purposes) are cut some time before use, laid out in the open to dry and toughen and then steeped in cold water to render them supple.

page 75 note 1 See the excellent description giving full native terminology by Best, The Maori, 2, 321–31.

page 75 note 2 Cook, op. cit., p. 340. Banks, op. cit. 199.

page 76 note 1 Narrative of a Voyage to New Zealand, 1817, 1, 174.

page 76 note 2 Ibid., pp. 269-70.

page 76 note 3 Nicholas, , op. cit., 1, 336–7.

page 76 note 4 Hamilton, A., Maori Art, 1896, p. 123 (plan).

NOTE.- Marsden, , Missionary Register, Dec., 1816, pp. 502–3, says in his description that there were three rows of trenches. This discrepancy may be partly due to his having included the scarp in this category. But if his account is correct then the pa was defended still more strongly than represented above.

page 77 note 1 Dominion Museum Bulletin, no.5, pp. 81 sqq.

page 77 note 2 Firth, op. cit., pp. 9-10.

page 78 note 1 Smith, S. Percy, History and Traditions of the Taranaki Coast, 1910, p. 365 . For other instances of sieges see Ibid. pp. 244, 246, 288, etc,; also Best, op. cit., pp. 335-8. The occurrence of such sieges of pa in Maori warfare is an interesting commentary on the opinion expressed by A. H. Allcroft (op. cit., p. 210), that “of sieges, and blockades, it is practically certain the prehistoric period knew nothing. A single rush, a succession of rushes, at most a day’s assault, was all that was to be feared.” Such was not the case with the neolithic Maori.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
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